Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The History of English in 10 minutes

Where did the phrase ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ come from? And when did scientists finally get round to naming sexual body parts? Voiced by Clive Anderson, this entertaining romp through 'The History of English' squeezes 1600 years of history into 10 one-minute bites, uncovering the sources of English words and phrases from Shakespeare and the King James Bible to America and the Internet. Bursting with fascinating facts, the series looks at how English grew from a small tongue into a major global language before reflecting on the future of English in the 21st century.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thrillers: Blood Sport by Dick Francis

After retiring in 1957 from a successful career as a jockey, then working for a spell as a racing journalists, Dick Francis started writing thriller novels, making the most of his knowledge of the world of horse racing to provide an intriguing background for his his fast-paced mysteries.
In Blood Sport, the hero figure is Gene Hawkins, a man whose qualifications for this position is that while he seems ordinary, even nondescript, he also happens to be an intelligence agent who is suffering from a suicidal frame of mind. His employer, Keeble, invites him for a day out on the river, only to introduce him to Dave Teiler, millionaire racehorse owner, whose prize stallion Chrysalis disappeared three weeks earlier. A'specialist in arranging accidents' himself, Gene becomes interested in helping track down the horse when he saves Teiler's life in a boating accident which Gene recognizes as a murder attempt. The story moves to America and the novel is packed with scenes of intrigue and suspense, finally leading up to murder.
Like most of Francis' many novels, Blood Sport uses horse racing as a vehicle for the mystery. The main characters may not necessarily be directly involved with the turf itself, but just have some indirect interest - Gene, for example, only has the merest connection with racing through his father, who was a trainer.

Memoirs: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This little gem is a collection of letters between struggling New York writer Helene Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks and Co. booksellers at 84 Charing Cross Road, London. Hanff first writes to Marks and Co. after she sees their ad in the Saturday Review of Literarture in 1949, thus beginning a twenty-year 'pen friendship'. Their correspodence starts off in a businesslike manner, addressing each other as 'Gentleman' and 'Dear Madam'. However, Hanff's brashness and informality soon has Doul to 'Dear Helene'.
As the book progresses, we learn about Hanff through her distinctive taste in English literature. At first her feistiness is somewhat intimidating, but she soon reveals a romantic, funny and very generous personality. When she discovers that the British are still on post-war rationing, Hanff sends gifts of food packages, not only to Doel but to his family and the rest of his staff. They in turn send her beautiful rare first editions.

Helene hanff was immeasurably enriched by her friendship with Frank Doel. He became a personal link to the London of her beloved authors that she would only ever dreamed about. And, in turn, her goodwill, humour and glimpses of New York life added sparkle to Frank's daily routine.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tips for reading a literature

Many people find reading literature to be a daunting task. They shy away from reading good books simply because they do not know how to read literature in the correct manner. They think that literature is for the studious or the geeks. But in reality a little awareness can help people read literature like any professor or teacher of literature.

So how to read literature like a professor? Not many literature study guides are available online to help you do this. The available study guides are too expensive and require too much study time to serve their purpose. A literature study guide has to be, obviously, easier to comprehend than the literary text itself. Otherwise it fails to serve its purpose.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Thriller: Death on a High Floor: A Legal Thriller by Charles Rosenberg

In Charles Rosenberg's intriguing legal thriller, "Death on a High Floor", Robert Tarza arrives at his law office at his usual hour of 6:00 a.m. only to stumble across the body of Managing Partner, Simon Rafer. Simon has a dagger in his back, a very familiar looking dagger it turns out.Does just being the unlucky discoverer of the body make you a "person of interest"? Apparently so, according to a homicide detective named Spritz, although the dead man is so universally disliked you would have to stand in line to get an opportunity to off him. As the circumstantial evidence piles up, Tarza is eventually charged with Murder One. Out on bail, Tarza and Jenna James (a young and brainy female associate) are forced to play detective. Somewhere out there lurking behind a valuable coin deal gone bad, rumblings of drug dealing, and lying witnesses, there's a real killer, but no one else is looking for him.

Unlike most legal thrillers the court room drama all takes place at the preliminary hearing, not in a jury trial. This is very interesting stuff, because the judge now becomes a major player and a character you won't soon forget. Mr. Rosenberg, a practicing attorney and legal script consultant to prime time TV shows, knows whereof he writes. "Death on a High Floor" is right up there with the best of this genre.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Transcendentalism of New England

The Transcendentalist movement was a reaction against 18th century rationalism and a manifestation of the general humanitarian trend of 19th century thought. The movement was based on a fundamental belief in the unity of the world and God. The soul of each individual was thought to be identical with the world - a microcosm of the world itself. The doctrine of self-reliance and individualism developed through the belief in the identification of the individual soul with God. Transcendentalism was intimately connected with Concord, a small New England village 32 kilometers west of Boston. Concord was the first inland settlement of the original Massachusetts Bay Colony. Surrounded by forest, it was and remains a peaceful town close enough to Boston's lectures, bookstores, and colleges to be intensively cultivated, but far enough away to be serene. Concord was the site of the first battle of the American Revolution, and Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem commemorating the battle, "Concord Hymn", has one of the most famous opening stanzas in American literature:

Monday, July 23, 2012

The new pop up and interactive children's books

Written and illustrated by Ethan Long.
40 pp. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. $15.99.
(Picture book; ages 1 to 6)

Doubling as a baby book and an early reader, this book about the ups and downs of avian rivalry succeeds abundantly on both fronts. Three linked stories feature three birds trying to outdo the others in one way or another. Who is tallest? Who flies highest? Is it better to be up or down? With clever humor, the simple text conveys lessons about adjectives, opposites and early math concepts. Long’s brightly colored exotic birds look like a cross between Mo Willems’s pigeon and Nickelodeon cartoons — animated, expressive and entertaining. A judicious sprinkling of oversize flaps provides an interactive element that expands — literally — on the proceedings.

By Britta Teckentrup.
18 pp. Handprint Books/Chronicle Books. $12.99.
(Picture book; ages 2 to 4)
Each of these beautifully produced interactive picture books contains toddler-friendly die-cut flaps that enable hands-on discovery without the risk of excessive rips or tears. In “Animal 123,” number-shaped flaps on each page open to show an additional animal: one wriggly snake becomes two wriggly snakes; two marching elephants become three marching elephants when a baby elephant is revealed holding his mother’s tail from behind; and so on. Similarly, “Animal Spots and Stripes” teaches  young children pattern-recognition skills as it highlights the differences between striped caterpillars and spotted butterflies, striped zebras and spotted giraffes, and other contrasting pairs. Teckentrup, a German author and illustrator, uses bold visuals and playful arrangements that make uncovering each flap’s hidden contents a worthwhile discovery. Both books include a double-flap final spread to deliver a surprise ending.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Modern fiction: God's Grace by Bernard Malamud

Pulitzer Prize-winner Bernard Malamud is most renowned for his brilliant, lyrical short stories, often set in Jewish ghettoes and written in a pastiche of Yiddish-English. "God's Grace" is a full-length novel, and like all Malamud's work deals with immense issues in microcosm.

Cohn, the lone survivor of a nuclear holocaust, wakes adrift in a boat with only a trained chimpanzee, Buz, for company. Cohn and Buz make their way to a deserted, uninhabited Eden-like island. Buz has been modified by his previous owner, a scientist, and fitted with a voice box. Cohn reconnects the dangling wires and the chimp begins to speak fluently, and fortuitously, in English.
Soon other animals, all primates, begin to come to the island,  and Cohn names them and tries to create morally sustainable, peaceable society, but he is unable to control competition and jealousy. Eventually he mates with the female and she produces a half-ape half-human child. Ultimately Cohn is unable to maintain the moral basis in his private life and since his 'creations\ have free will, they rebel against his authority.

"God's Grace" is a hugely imaginative, scholarly and thought-provoking meditation on a creator's relationship with his creation.

Friday, July 20, 2012

How to learn speed reading?

Speed reading is not just about reading fast (that is "skimming" apparently). You can actually attend courses to train you to read (and understand) not word-by-word but line-by-line and eventually paragraph-by-paragraph at breakneck speeds. Impatient readers should work their way through the following techniques:

The Hand
Place your right hand sideways on the page and, slowly and evenly, move it straight down the page, following smoothly with your eyes. gradually increase the speed of your hand to increase the speed of your read.

The Card
Use a card above the line of print to block the words after you have read them. Be sure to push the card down faster than you think you can go and try to read the passage before the words are covered up.

The Sweep
Use your fingers to draw your eyes across the page by sweeping your hand from left to right in a fast, smooth motion under the line that you are reading.

The Hop
Similar to the sweep, except that with the hop you actually lift your fingers and make two even bounces on the line. This method also ensures a steady pace and rhythm.

The Zig-Zag
You know you have arrived when you master the zig-zag. It is the quickest form of scanning and allows you to cut across the text diagonally, picking up words in the whole paragraph rather then each word on a line.

The Skip
The ultimate in speed reading, this unauthorised technique involves jumping from the first to the last page with an optional stop on the middle page for a little more in the way of suspense.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Memoirs: In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming

George Lamming is a highly respected West Indian novelist, recipient of the Somerset Maugham Award for Literature, and a Fellow of the Institute of Jamaica. He was born and raised in Carrington Village, Barbados, the setting of his first and best-known book, "In the Castle of My Skin". This autobiographical novel is considered a seminal work in post-colonial fiction - the title is taken from a poem by Derek Walcott: "You in the castle of your skin, I among the swineherd".
"In the Castle of My Skin" is the personal story that 'came out of the gut'. It also deals with a broader issues of imperialism, class, racism, economics and education. The novel is set during the riots of the 1930s, and is cleverly told from three perspectives: the young first-person narrator known only as G. (the mouthpiece for Lamming himself); third-person voices of Ma and Pa, and an omniscient third-person narrator.

Lamming has a rhythmic, musical style, and a firm grasp of the local dialect. His writing was influenced by Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Jane Austen and the King James Bible.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Modern Fiction: Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

In novels, aunts rarely do things by half. They can be as different in character as Bertie Wooster's aunts Dahlia and Agatha – the former, "my good and kindly aunt", the latter, "the one who kills rats with her teeth and devours her young". Yet they will nearly always be domineering. They will have, as Wooster puts it, "a carrying voice". Also, to quote Wodehouse one more delightful time, they're tough: "It isn't often that Aunt Dahlia lets her angry passions rise, but when she does, strong men climb trees and pull them up after them."

Literary aunts are, in short, formidable. Alongside Wodehouse's battleaxes, there's the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice. There are Just William's scolding, scowling aging relatives. There's Aunt Ada Doom, the witness of the woodshed in Cold Comfort Farm. There are the horrific and cruel aunts Spiker and Sponge in James and the Giant Peach. Best of all there's Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield, who electrifies every scene she enters. This is the woman who will rage at David for making the mistake of being born a boy instead of a girl, who will terrify anyone foolish enough to bring a donkey anywhere near her garden, but who still may be finest person ever to have appeared in the pages of a novel: "Never," said my aunt, "be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you."When we meet Aunt Augusta in Travels with My Aunt, all the signs are that Graham Greene is giving us a classic of the breed. Even her name is mighty. Her first words, meanwhile, are as striking as they come: "I was once present at a premature cremation." Within three short pages of making that memorable statement, she implies to Henry that his recently deceased mother was a virgin, that his father was anything but and also invites him round to her gaff for a stiff drink. This is not someone who is backward in coming forward.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Bloomsbury Group

The Bloomsbury Group was a small, informal association of artists and intellectuals who lived and worked in the Bloomsbury area of central London. Most prominent of these was novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf. In all, only about a dozen people at any one time could have called themselves members of the group. Beginning shortly before 1910, the Bloomsbury Group gathered at irregular intervals for conversation, companionship, and the refueling of creative energy. The members of Bloomsbury, or “Bloomsberries,” would more or less maintain allegiance to their mutual philosophy of an ideal society, even through a World War and three decades of tectonic shifts in the political climate. They had no codified agenda or mission. They were not political in the ordinary sense of the word. Most importantly, there was no application or initiation required to become a member. Bloomsbury was an informal hodgepodge of intellectual friends, and one either merited inclusion to that circle or one did not. No rules of order, as in a committee, governed the way in which Bloomsbury managed their interactions.

The Bloomsbury Group letters
Instead, they held impromptu dinners and gatherings where any number of topics was the subject of serious discussion and contemplation. These intellectual exchanges served as the main influence on later work by individual members. By no means were all members in full agreement on all subjects. Some of Bloomsbury’s most stimulating ideas and writings were borne out of internal disagreement and strife. One can safely say that each member of Bloomsbury was leftist in his or her politics, although as individuals they expressed their politics in very different ways.

Thrillers: The Laughing Policeman

Husband-an-wife writing team, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, collaborated on a police detective series starting in 1965 with "Roseanna", which was received to great acclaim, and going on until Wahlöö's early death in 1975. "The Laughing Policeman" is a key example, both of the style they made their own and of the working methods of their leading detective protagonist, Superintendent Martin Beck of the Central Bureau of Investigation in Stockholm.

One wet night, the passengers on a bus are muchine-gunned down by the unknown killer and the police have to track him down with very little to go on. the public and the press assume it can only be the work of a motive-less madman but the police think there may be a sane, if dark, motive behind it. 
Structured by looking back into the past lives of the victims and building up their characters and lifestyles for clues as to why they were shot and how they all came to be on the bus in the first place, the style of the novel is carefully realistic and grips the attention. Martin Beck and his detectives are also handled in a realistic manner, and the series could be categorized as belonging to police procedural fiction, where teamwork and painstaking police routine are minutely observed. 

There is no omniscient, Holmesian work here, so the novel can be truthfully grim in its treatment of the professional setting, where the police are constantly struggling with administrative frustration and politically-created bureaucracy. This attention to the larger influences on the work of the police force makes "The Laughing Policeman" not only satisfyingly convincing, but also reflects the social conditions in Sweden at the time. 

Modern fiction: Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

"The Berlin Stories" is actually a loose confederation of two small novels, "Mr Norris Changes Trains" and "Goodbye to Berlin", both written in the 1930s. "Goodbye to Berlin" formed the basis for John Van Druten's play, "I am a Camera" which then morphed into the well-known musical "Cabaret" with the infamous Sally Bowles.

The stories were based on Christopher Isherwood's own experiences in Berlin between 1929 - 1933, the years leading up to the Second World War. As a homosexual, Isherwood found the city's reputation for sexual freedom alluring. The style is very much that of the camera, the non-participant, the observer, and although the characters are vividly painted there is a sense of alienation that permeates the whole.

"The Berlin Stories" seem to suggest that there is a difference between freedom and licence and these stories are a masterly depiction of the magic, decadence, vice and the lost souls in pre-war Germany - a world that was already in a downward spiral. In hindsight this fact seems obvious from these carefully drawn vignettes, and this is in part what makes this contemporaneous collection so compelling.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Poetry: Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869 - 1935)
"Richard Cory"

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -
And admirably schooled in every grace;
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and curse the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Science Fiction: Stranger in the Strange Land

Valentine Michael Smith (Mike) was born on Mars to two members of the first expedition from Earth. He was also the only survivor and was brought up by members of an ancient Martian civilization. Twenty Years later, he is found by the second expedition and brought back to an Earth that is to him a completely alien culture and often terrifying, with a telepathic link to the Martians so that they can study Earth and decide whether it is a threat or not.

Hidden by the government, partly for his own sake and partly because they are afraid of him, he is helped to escape by Jill Boardman, the first woman he has ever seen, and they end up taking refuge at the home of writer Jubal Harshow. After learning enough about human culture to get by, Mike decided to form his own church based on his own brand of Martian philosophy, which involves nudity, copious free love, individual responsibility and a message of peace.

There are long diatribes against ineffectual government, organized religion and many of America's contemporary values. These are, in effect, the personal views of the author, Robert A. Heinlein, and at the beginning of the 1960's were so shocking that the publisher cut the book by about 60,000 words. The unexpurgated version was published by his widow some years after his death.

Memoirs: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

"Reading Lolita in Tehran" is a multy-layered memoir written by an Iranian professor of English and American literature. The author, Azar Nafisi, was educated in the United States, and taught in Iran from 1979 until 1995.
The first strand of the narrative tells of how, after resigning from her teaching position due to its many restrictions, Nafisi conducted a clandestine literature seminar in her home each week, attended by seven of her best and brightest female students.

Through their discussions of such classic Western novels as "Lolita", "The Great Gatsby", "Daisy Miller" and "Pride and Prejudice" (all of which had to be photocopied because the books were outlawed), the young women learn about each other and themselves, and most importantly, how to exercise some degree of freedom in a totalitarian state.

In addition, Nafisi weaves her own life story around the history of Iran during the tumultuous period of the revolution, the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the war with Iraq. Nafisi also reveals how her life could be inextricably linked with the books she is reading. For example, she wonders if the 19th century novels she read during her pregnancy could have affected her daughter's personality.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Grain Magazine's 24th Annual Short Grain Writing Contest

"Grain" is the most exciting literary magazine on the Canadian and international scene...the one that everyone wants to be published in! Recent issues have featured the work of such literary luminaries as Xi Chuan, Tim Lilburn, Guy Maddin, Miriam Toews, Zsuzsi Gartner, and Eleanor Wachtel. And you could join them in the pages of Grain!

This year's contest judges, Lawrence Hill and rob mclennan, are literary stars in their own right...with impeccable taste!

$4,500 in prizes to be won! Each entrant receives a FREE subscription to Grain Magazine!
Two categories to enter:
Poetry: (to a max of 100 lines) Poetry of any style including PROSE POEM up to 100 lines.
(to a max of 2,500 words) Short fiction in any form including POST CARD STORY, to a maximum of 2500 words.
3 prizes will be awarded in each category:
1st Prize: $1,000
2nd Prize: $750
3rd Prize: $500
And the Judges are...
POETRY: rob mclennan
Author of over 20 trade books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, including Glengarry (2011) and wild horses (2010).
FICTION: Lawrence Hill
Author of The Book of Negroes and winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Poetry: The Snow-storm by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Snow-storm

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courtier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen squaring evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer's sighs; and at the gate
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)
The central figure among the Transcendentalist group of philosophers, Emerson considered himself to be first and foremost a poet, albeit one whose best work was done "for the most part in prose". His essays on nature and art have influenced writers from Whitman and Thoreau to Frost and Stevens.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Modern fiction: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

This masterpiece of postmodern fiction brought that extraordinary contemporary writing of Gabriel García Márquez, a Colombian Nobel laureate in literature, to the wider world. It is an intensely personal work, drawing upon the politics, history, culture, myth, magic and ghosts that form the back ground and Marquez's life growing up in Colombia.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is history of Macondo, a fictional small town in none unspecified area of South America, from its beginnings, to its ultimate obliteration, when the last member of the seventh generation of the founding Buendía family finally translates the parchment that predicted the towns circular history.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tolkien ignored by 1961 Nobel jury

Newly released documents have revealed that novelist JRR Tolkien was passed over for the Nobel literature prize in 1961, after his storytelling in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy was described as second rate. Declassified after 50 years, the papers show that Tolkien was nominated for the award by fellow author CS  Lewis but that the Nobel prize jury had said of his work:

"The result has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality."

The documents also reveal that British writer Graham Greene - who never won the Nobel prize - finished in second place behind Yugoslav writer Ivo Andric.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tintin - Not Guilty of Racism

A Belgian court has rejected an application to ban a colonial-era book about the Congolese adventures of cartoon character Tintin for breaching racism laws, court documents showed.
Brussels' court of first instance said it did not believe the 1946 edition of "Tintin in the Congo" was intended to incite racial hatred, a criteria when deciding if something breaks Belgium's racism laws. The decision was issued late on Friday.
The Adventures of Tintin, a series of comic books created by Belgian artist Georges Remi, who wrote under the pen name Herge, has gained renewed, global popularity in the past year after Hollywood director Stephen Spielberg made an animated film about the intrepid boy journalist and his little white dog Snowy.
"Tintin in the Congo" was the second book Herge produced, with the plot revolving around Tintin's escapades in the former Belgian colony, including encounters with diamond smugglers, big game hunters and wild animals.
In 2007, Congolese campaigner Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo launched legal proceedings to try to get the book banned, arguing that its portrayal of Africans was racist.
"Tintin in the Congo", which was first serialised in 1930-31 and reissued in 1946, has always attracted criticism. Herge himself said later in life that he wasn't happy with the work, which was only published in English in 1991.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Writing in the 15th century

Not many personal notebooks survive from the 15th and early 16th centuries in England. One reason for this is that few people were capable of producing them. At that time, reading and writing were taught as two separate skills. Writing was considered the more difficult and not an ability everyone needed to learn.
While it was essential for those embarking on a clerical career, it was superfluous to those whose livelihood depended on manual labour. The bulk of surviving manuscript material, therefore, was the work of professional writers, and oral communication remained highly valued in early Tudor culture.

This does not mean, however, that English people had little access to books. During the 15th and 16th centuries there was a growing proliferation of reading material, aided by two technical changes: the launch of paper in the early 15th century and the development of printing later that century.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What books we like to read?

At a time when books appear to be waging a Sisyphean battle against the forces of MySpace, YouTube and “American Idol,” the notion that someone could move so quickly from literary indifference to devouring passion seems, sadly, far-fetched.
The problem was underscored last week when the National Endowment for the Arts delivered the sobering news that Americans — particularly teenagers and young adults — are reading less for fun. At the same time, reading scores among those who read less are declining, and employers are proclaiming workers deficient in basic reading comprehension skills.

 So that’s the bad news. But is all hope gone, or will people still be drawn to the literary landscape? And what is it, exactly, that turns someone into a book lover who keeps coming back for more?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Classic Fiction: Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque by Edgar Allan Poe

Probably published in 1839, this was the first collection of short stories that Edgar Allan Poe produced. In two volumes, it comprised 25 tales, among them "The Fall of the House of Usher", "MS. Found in the Bottle", "William Wilson" and "The Assignation".

The latter is set in Venice, where the narrator witnesses his friend rescue the drowning child of Marchesa Aphrodite, whose husband surreptitiously looks on as they arrange an assignation after midnight. The traces of a romance between the two are revealed to the narrator who later discovers they were both poisoned.
"The fall of the House of Usher" is perhaps the most famous tale from the collection. It recounts the metaphoric and quite literal collapse of both the house and the family.

"MS. Found in the Bottle" is the bizarre story of the storm at sea which flings the narrator from one ship to another. As the sole survivor of the first shipwreck, he now finds himself alone among the sailors on the ghostly vessel. He writes the manuscript of the title, whose last entry tells of a coming storm.

"William Wilson" is a classic doppelgänger story, of two William Wilsons whose presence disturbs one another at school and in adulthood until they fight in a duel where one dies proclaiming that the other is dead, too.
Poe's stories are startlingly original, often disturbing and frequently macabre.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Modern Fiction: Wildlife by Richard Ford

This is Richard Ford's fourth novel, written in 1990. He is perhaps better known for Independence Day, which won the Pulitzer Prize and Penn Prizes. ford is often compared to Faulkner or Hemingway in that he holds a mirror up to American society and we see reflected in it and in the lives of the characters he creates, both the universal human condition and that of America's ordinary people.

Wildlife is characterized by clear, tight, poetic, if a somewhat distant, narrative style. This reflects the overarching theme of the futility and sterility of unfulfilled lives. The story is set in 1960, and is told in the first person, by Joe Brinson, a young man living with his parents. Like many of Ford's creations, he is caught at a moment of transience, having recently moved to Great Falls and not having made many friends.

His father Jerry has recently lost his job, and becomes a fire fighter. He is sent off to fight a raging forest fire. In the few days he is gone, Joe's mother has an affair. The natural disaster serves as metaphor, too, for the explosive passions that the family must share.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The King James Bible - Gained in translation

The King James Bible was the end result of seven years of work by a committee of top scholars. For years they pored over every chapter, every verse and every word. First published in 1611, the King James or Authorized version, is one of countless translations and paraphrases of the Bible and yet it remains at the heart of Christianity today.

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